The romantic notion of "Free Willy" star Keiko swimming back to the sea just like in the movies has run up against a hard reality: The killer whale doesn't have much of a killer instinct.
Keiko is so lousy at catching fish that even some of his most optimistic handlers acknowledge that the whale who has lived nearly his entire life in a pool may never be able to survive in the wild.He is getting lessons from humans in catching fish. And in the first peek to be given to a reporter, Keiko managed to catch a couple, with a trainer using a dog whistle, hand signals and clapping to point him to his prey.
But for the most part, the black-and-white beast watched meal after meal flutter by.
"He may never reach the wild. This may not succeed," said Nolan Harvey, curator of marine mammals of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation.
Regardless of whether his hunting abilities improve, the foundation still plans to take Keiko later this year to an enclosed bay pen in the North Atlantic where he would continue to be fed.
Two years ago, schoolchildren inspired by the movie "Free Willy" helped raise money to move the ailing killer whale from a cramped Mexico City aquarium to a spacious pool here at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in hopes of getting him healthy enough for a return to the open sea.
His health did indeed improve, helped along with daily hand feedings of 300 pounds of restaurant-quality fresh fish.
To get him ready for the wild, however, the hand feeding stopped abruptly a couple of months ago, and trainers began dropping dead fish into the tank.
The famous whale ate two fish but then seemed to lose interest, letting at least three other live fish swim by unharmed.